FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2011, OR THEREAFTER
BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“WAS 2010 A NATIONAL REPLAY OF CALIFORNIA’S 1994?”
Eliseo Medina is one prominent Democrat who wasn’t much upset by last year’s midterm election outcome, in general a Republican rout of Democrats.
That’s because Medina, the international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, believes 2010 may be remembered as a political watershed year, but not in the way Republicans would like. He sees it as a lot like 1994 was for California.
That was the year GOP Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection largely on the strength of an anti-illegal immigrant appeal, his campaign backing the anti-illegal Proposition 187 and featuring commercials that intoned “They keep coming” as they showed illegals running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro. It was also the last year any Republican who wasn’t a muscular movie star won a top-of-the-ticket race in California. Since then, three GOP candidates for governor have lost California, along with five senatorial hopefuls and every Republican presidential candidate.
“Rand Paul (the new Tea Party-linked GOP senator from Kentucky) may turn out to be the national Pete Wilson,” says Medina. “Among Latino voters, he’s as disliked as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.”
Wilson, of course, became anathema to Hispanic voters both in California and nationwide after his ’94 campaign. Aside from ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, every candidate with whom he’s been associated since has lost by double-figure margins, most recently Meg Whitman last year, when he was her largely-honorary campaign chairman.
The main reason for this has been Latino voters, who provided Gov. Jerry Brown with his entire margin of victory last fall, going for him by an 84-13 percent margin, according to several exit polls. Medina, whose union spent more than $5 million on independent expenditure television commercials, brochures and house-to-house campaign visits, is convinced Brown’s Latino take was largely because of Whitman’s tough anti-illegal immigration rhetoric in the primary election, when she and rival Steve Poizner constantly and loudly vied to be toughest in promising a crackdown on illegals.
“There was a lot of confusion up front because of the $15 million Whitman put into Spanish-language television ads soon after the primary,” Medina said. “But eventually, (Hispanic) people realized what she was. Then their enthusiasm to vote picked up and they felt they had to vote to defend the Latino community from attacks by Republicans.”
Much the same thing happened next door in Nevada, where Latinos voted for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid by a 94-5 percent margin and were largely responsible for keeping him in office. “Once we made it clear to Latinos that (Republican) Sharron Angle was constantly demonizing immigrants, people became very defensive,” Medina said.
Voting participation figures lend strength to Medina’s conviction that Republican harping on illegal immigration will eventually be as harmful to the party nationally as it has been here. In California, the Latino share of the electorate rose from under 10 percent prior to 1994 to at least 18 percent last fall, with some analysts claiming it was 22 percent. Latino voters made North Carolina and Virginia swing states in the 2008 presidential election, their participation in those places rising from less than 5 percent in prior elections to the 8 percent range, almost all the increase going to the Democratic column.
As Hispanic immigrants’ presence grows steadily in other parts of the nation, Medina believes they will emerge as an electoral force, just as they did in post-1994 California. Here, the citizenship drive that followed passage of Proposition 187 turned California from a tossup state to one that’s strongly Democratic. There is currently no comparable citizenship drive nationally, but as more and more employers try to lower labor costs, Hispanics will continue increasing their presence in places far from any border.
“The Latino community is no longer a regional community,” said Medina, whose union represents about 95,000 California state workers and many thousands more who work as janitors, food processors and others. “It’s growing everywhere, which means it is only a matter of time before we become a force in places where anti-immigration candidates have run strong. Like Kentucky.”
If Republicans want to prevent a national party calamity like that which continues to afflict them in California, Medina suggests they need to get active in immigration reform efforts that feature some kind of amnesty for illegals.
“For sure,” he says, “we will work to keep Latinos engaged. Our efforts were important in California and Colorado and Nevada and they will have more and more impact around the entire country. Our impact is rising in places like Arizona, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.” All places where GOP candidates won last year with strident anti-immigrant stances, but locales where the Latino vote is growing steadily. Something the national Republican Party might want to note.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net